Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

Interview

Turkish NBA star takes on Erdogan

  • It not the first time Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been accused of abusing Interpol to track down opponents of his regime (Photo: Flickr)

Enes Kanter, the Turkish basketball star who plays for the New York Knicks, skipped his team's match in London last Thursday for what he says was fear of his life.

An outspoken critic of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kanter said he was afraid Turkish spies or Erdogan fanatics could kill him in London.

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  • 2.11m-tall Enes Kanter is a Turkish star of the NBA - playing for the New York Knicks. The Turkish government accuse him of being part of a terrorist organisation (Photo: Wikimedia)

In his tweets, he argued he felt safe in New York but was not sure about what would happen in London, where a large Turkish community lives.

The Turkish authorities angrily dismissed Kanter's allegations as baseless.

However, in a bizarre development which seemed to vindicate the NBA star's fears, Turkey issued a red bulletin for his arrest while his team was on the plane to London.

Turkish prosecutors allege he is part of a terrorist organisation, an accusation the Turkish legal system often use to silence critics of the Erdogan regime.

In an interview with EUobserver, Kanter said the accusations that he was a terrorist were "silly".

Kanter has never concealed his sympathy for the Gulen movement, which Erdogan claims was behind the attempted coup against him in 2016.

The group denies any involvement.

Brussels silent?

Kanter said he was shocked by the lack of a reaction from the EU to grave human rights violations and oppression of free media in Turkey, an applicant country.

"Turkey is a candidate country trying to be a part of EU, and yet Brussels keeps silent. It is incomprehensible for me", he said.

Kanter says the EU could have at least condemned more strongly Erdogan's oppression of mothers with babies in prisons, and the gagging of journalists.

"If EU does not do what it's supposed to do, how would it be an example to other nations in terms of democracy and basic human rights?" he said.

Asked about Turkish authorities' obsession with him, he asked how an NBA player could be a threat to a huge country like Turkey?

"If Erdogan thinks my outspokenness to his tyranny would topple his regime down, then I'm right on he's a dictator. Dictators only fear from criticism and open-minded constituents, and they think their regime is under attack," Kanter said.

Kanter's refusal to join his team in London has been a major topic in the US media, where he was invited to speak on media outlets including CNN and Fox News.

NBA celebrities such as Russell Westbrook, and TV personalities like Keith Olbermann weighed in on Kanter's side - prompting furious reactions from Turkish diplomats in the US.

London has been one of the main hubs for the critics of Erdogan who have fled Turkey.

Britain has so far resisted Turkey's numerous demands for the extradition of suspected Gulenists.

In one of the high-profile cases last year, British judges refused the extradition of Akın İpek, a Turkish businessman who owned several newspapers and TV channels until 2016.

The Turkish government confiscated his fortune worth $12bn [€10.5bn] after the coup.

In May 2017, Kanter was detained for several hours at an airport in Romania, after the Turkish government canceled his travel documents.

The same year, prosecutors filed charges to sentence Kanter to more than four years in jail on charges that he had insulted Erdogan on social media.

On the arrest warrant issued by Turkish authorities, Kanter said Erdogan was abusing Interpol's system to silence his critics overseas.

He also drew attention to Turkey's alleged operations to kidnap critics and bring them back which he called "the long arms of Erdogan".

Turkish authorities have publicly announced that around 100 Gulenists have been "brought" to Turkey to stand trial.

Kanter was born in Switzerland because of his father's studies, but was raised in Turkey. However, he has not seen his family since 2015.

His family's house was raided in 2016.

Asked about if he was concerned about his family's safety, he said: "Of course I am."

Selcuk Gultasli was Brussels bureau chief of the Turkish newspaper Zaman. Zaman was closed by decree of the Turkish government in July 2016

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